A Self-Inflicted Wound
The New York, Indie, rom-com gets the Dublin treatment in Tom Moran’s “Lyrics,” where damaged boy meets damaged girl during a redemptive night in Dublin. A well-worn tale of a gormless geek going for the gorgeous girl, “Lyrics” can be incredibly funny, and deeply heartfelt at times, even if it ultimately proves to be incredibly frustrating. For despite its obvious charm, its two characters and their modest tale, beautifully realised at times by two engaging performances, are poorly served by an over reliance on a formulaic, Mamet Speak, repetitive approach to dialogue. A singular, rapid fire device, often poorly executed, that foregrounds itself and overpowers character and story to their detriment. Draining away much of its life force because of this self-inflicted wound, a straitjacketed “Lyrics” often loses sight of the forest for almost always gazing at the same tree.
In Moran’s often exasperating script, the unnamed ‘He’, nurturing more than nursing his broken heart, is a piano player and singer songwriter of lamentable, navel gazing love songs. The type that drive people to suicide, or girlfriends of six years to leave you. Why they leave, or cheat, or hung around for six years in the first place might not be explicitly clear, but two minutes spent in his oversharing, woe is me, company and you’re about ready to break up with him yourself. A self-confessed girly man, in such crippling need of feminine validation he makes most beta males look like members of The Expendables, ‘He’ doesn’t know when to shut up. Or how to properly respond to 'She', who he's just met at the end of an open mic session. Exploding awkwardly into conversation, ‘He’ learns ‘She’ is spending her last night in Dublin before flying to New York to visit a father she's never met. As a night of machine gun, back and forth, rapid fire, word play unfolds, it soon becomes clear that ‘She’ has some choices to make. Should they hold hands? Should they kiss? Should she stay, or should she go?
If “Lyrics’” somewhat satisfying, somewhat unresolved, and somewhat unconvincing ending feels a little like a cop out, it also serves to highlight what could have been. Slipping free from Moran’s textual restraints, letting character and scene carry the moment, “Lyrics’” charm is as infectious as it is irresistible. And it’s there throughout. But needless interjections, interruptions, extensions, and repetitions cut across conversations frustratingly, unconvincingly, and unnecessarily, as if aspiring to an imitative Mamet Speak cleverness, till you feel you’re being battered about the head by them. Indeed, were you to remove the repetitions alone, you could probably shave twenty minutes off the sixty-minute running time and still not miss it. Musically, Moran’s New York state of musical mind speaks more to a Randy Newman, or a Weird Al Yankovic, than a Billy Joel. If musically innocuous and lyrically lacklustre, Moran’s immediately forgettable songs still do enough to push the emotional buttons, compensating with clever jokes that can prove utterly charming in places.
Yet director Romana Testasecca, along with Danielle Galligan as ‘She’, and Tom Moran as ‘He’, manage to make Moran’s problematic and frustrating script hugely engaging for most of the time. If Testasecca doesn’t fully come to grips with Moran’s forced dialogue patterns, or doesn't always choose the strongest compositional option when negotiating the restrictions imposed by the dialogue driven script, she nails it when it comes to locating character and scene. Galligan and Moran, even allowing for those times when you see both constrained by Moran’s textual delivery system, do incredibly well at keeping the audience engaged throughout. Indeed, Moran manages to make his moan a minute ‘He’ deeply endearing, whilst Galligan’s ‘She’ proves to be incredibly convincing and subtely expressive, saying far more with her eyes than both do with words. Ciara Murnane’s simple yet effective set beautifully captures the spirit of a cheap, late night, music venue, lending some much needed context and atmosphere.
If Moran’s Mamet Speak script was as tight as his performance, “Lyrics” could well have been a real little gem. Instead, driven by a narrow, technical approach to dialogue, which dominates character, scene, and story rather than informing them, a promising “Lyrics” proves to be a case of what should have been. For Moran and Galligan are both delightful, sharing a gentle chemistry that always keeps you watching, in this sweet tale with a lot of heart, and more than its fair share of laughs.
“Lyrics” by Tom Moran, presented by SQUAD Productions in association with Theatre Upstairs, runs at Theatre Upstairs until April 14th
For more information, visit Theatre Upstairs.